Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Education X-Prize

By on February 17, 2008

Maybe it’s time that education outsourced our brainstorming.   Maybe it’s time that we listen to people outside of education brainstorm what to do inside of education. Check out The Opinion page of USA Today for February 13.  In it, various authors debate the merit of merit pay.  Look, I ultimately believe that teachers and administrators need to be in on the decisions, but I think that new, fresh ideas might just come from the dreamers who aren’t shackled by the reality of our past practices. 

If we thought of education as science-fiction, we’d be better off.  After all, we are humans, and humans have the superpower of being able to make science-fiction into non-fiction.

You want to fly? Now we have everything from airplanes to hang gliders. And have you seen those flying guys on YouTube? Check it out and tell me if the age of flight isn’t upon us.
Although I am still waiting impatiently for my jetpack to beat the traffic, the fact is that my luggage and I can still get to Sacramento in 1 hour on Southwest. Just think how long Father Serra took on his mule.
We wanted to breathe underwater; Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan created scuba tanks. We want to bring clean water to empovershed countries; now we have Dean Kamen’s Stirling engines trying to bring water purification to our global community.
I call this the Star Trek Syndrome, the ability to dream in the language of science-fiction first and then to make good on those dreams. It’s how I know that we will have flying cars one day, even if we’ll have them before the government thinks ahead to create 3-D traffic laws. Maybe not in my lifetime, but many didn’t live to see iChat either. Clearly it happened anyway, just like The Jetsons said it would.
Many think tanks have been established to debate the issues of education and to solve the problems within. But as it turns out, many of them are related. Eduwonkette’s blog gives a simple, but comprehensive look at the web of relationshipships connecting many of these groups. It’s not that sitting on different committees in the same community is wrong, but it gets stagnant. The pool of ideas dries up or simply recycles. Cue mosquitoes.
So let some science-fiction author have a crack at solving the education issues of today. Let’s see three of them hand us their blueprints, and we’ll get to choose. Hell, let’s make it a reality show. Then let the educators go at it and focus on nothing else. I mean, send in a crack team comprised of those educators who bring energy and a new perspective to the table and those who are wise enough to know good past practice from ineffective past practice.

I fear that the current educational decision-makers have proved that they can’t think big enough, creatively enough, or objectively enough. It’s another kind of syndrome I call the La Bamba Effect, based on a mediocre movie that could have been a really good movie had the movie makers not idolized their product so much (Ricky Valenz) that they made a cinematic shrine rather then a good movie.

But the grand poo-bah of outsource brainstorming may one day actually come from the X-Prize organization that has recently added a prize in the category of education. In science-fiction, rockets run rampant. The X-prize, that incredibly innovative and inspirational forerunner in hopeful inventiveness, set rocketry as its last goal. Perhaps with the minds of the world put to it, education will be the next solution to blast off.

Of course, in the end, I’m not suggesting that we cut off the resources of expertise.  Let’s face it, good educators are needed to make miracles happen.  But many people in education also dismiss possible solutions based on the familiarity of the “No.”  Eventually, rather than let our dreams for education come untethered with possibilities, they become fenced in by the reality of our resources.  But in an ocean of possibilities, there can still be found a fish not yet discovered.
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